Mesothelioma Treatment

The most common mesothelioma treatments are surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. These treatments play a key role in destroying cancer tumors and improving survival. Some patients also receive emerging treatments through clinical trials. Veterans with mesothelioma can access top doctors and cutting-edge treatment through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

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View Summary: Registered Nurse Amy Fair explains what mesothelioma is, the causes, and the symptoms. View Transcript.

What is Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma attacks the tissues that line most major organs, called the mesothelium. It is known mainly to attack the mesothelium of the lung, pericardial sack, peritoneal cavity in the abdomen, and also known to attack the lining of the testicles.

One of the first symptoms for developing mesothelioma is shortness of breath. A lot of times folks will have the shortness of breath with the pleuritic chest pain. This is also followed sometimes by substantial weight loss.

Many times after being diagnosed with mesothelioma your physician may ask you if you have been exposed to asbestos. Asbestos is a causative factor for mesothelioma. Some of the imaging studies may show underlying pleural plaques which are indicated that they have been around asbestos and may have underlying asbestosis.

The risk factors for developing mesothelioma are working around asbestos-related products, or being indirectly around those products such as secondhand exposures that are seen with wives that launder their loves ones’ clothes that have asbestos dust on them. So direct asbestos exposure, as well as indirect asbestos exposure, can be causative factors for mesothelioma.

If you have symptoms of mesothelioma of any asbestos-related disease, it’s important that you inform your doctor of your asbestos exposure so that appropriate testing can be done.

Medically edited and fact-checked by: Todd Gersten, MDDouble Board-Certified Oncologist and Hematologist
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Mesothelioma Treatment Options for Veterans

Treatment options for mesothelioma vary based on the location of the cancer, cell type, and the patient’s overall health. All treatment types can be used to extend lifespan or to reduce symptoms and improve quality of life.

Most patients will receive at least one of the following treatment options. Your doctor will help you create the best treatment plan for your goals and needs.

Learn more about treatment options for:

Mesothelioma Surgery

Mesothelioma surgery is often considered the best option to help patients live longer because it removes all cancer tumors that can be seen with the naked eye. However, it may not be an option for everyone. Invasive surgeries can take a toll on the body and require long recovery times.

Chemotherapy

Through mesothelioma chemotherapy, cancer-killing medications are used to shrink tumors. Chemotherapy is typically given in cycles, allowing patients time to recover from any possible side effects they may experience.

Radiation Therapy

During mesothelioma radiation, high-energy rays are aimed at tumors to damage cancer cells so they cannot reproduce. Radiation also causes the tumors to shrink, making them easier to remove with surgery.

Multimodal Treatment for Mesothelioma

Through multimodal treatment, multiple therapies are used. The most common type of multimodal treatment combines surgery with radiation and/or chemotherapy. Surgery removes most of the cancerous tissue. The other therapies reduce the size of the tumor before surgery or kill remaining cancer cells after it.

Pleural Mesothelioma Treatment

Pleural mesothelioma originates in the lining of the lungs (pleura). It’s the most common form of mesothelioma, and there are many treatment options available for it.

Surgeries for Pleural Mesothelioma

Surgery is most often considered for patients diagnosed in the early stages of pleural mesothelioma. Here, the cancer is still easily removable and hasn’t spread to distant areas of the body.

In later stages, surgery may be considered too risky — especially if patients are older or have other health problems besides mesothelioma.

Patients that qualify for surgery typically undergo an extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP) or a pleurectomy with decortication (P/D).

Extrapleural Pneumonectomy (EPP)

A diagram showing how an extrapleural pneumonectomy is performed. It shows a healthy lung (which is not removed) and organs that are removed (heart lining, lung, mesothelioma tumors, and a small piece of the diaphragm).A diagram showing how an extrapleural pneumonectomy is performed. It shows a healthy lung (which is not removed) and organs that are removed (heart lining, lung, mesothelioma tumors, and a small piece of the diaphragm).

An extrapleural pneumonectomy removes as much cancerous tissue from the chest cavity as possible. Surgeons remove the affected lung, the lining of the lungs, the lining of the heart, and parts of the diaphragm.

Cancer patients must be in good general health to qualify for this surgery as it is very aggressive. Patients may also face quality of life issues afterwards (like shortness of breath or dependence on an oxygen tank).

Pleurectomy With Decortication (P/D)

A pleurectomy with decortication removes cancerous tissue from the lining of the heart, lining of the lung, and diaphragm. The lung is left intact and is not removed.

A patient’s age does not affect their ability to receive a P/D. Many oncologists (cancer doctors) prefer it to an EPP even for younger patients since it offers many of the same benefits without the risks to quality of life.

A diagram showing a pleurectomy with decortication surgery. It shows healthy lungs and how the lung lining (pleura) and cancer tumors are removed.A diagram showing a pleurectomy with decortication surgery. It shows healthy lungs and how the lung lining (pleura) and cancer tumors are removed.

Chemotherapy for Pleural Mesothelioma

Chemotherapy is one of the most common types of treatment for pleural mesothelioma patients. Most times, age and health do not limit who can receive chemotherapy. Pleural mesothelioma patients who undergo chemotherapy are usually given a combination of cisplatin and pemetrexed.

Chemotherapy drugs may be given alone as a palliative treatment to reduce painful symptoms, or as part of a multimodal plan to increase lifespan.

Amy Fair
Amy FairRegistered Nurse
20+ years helping mesothelioma victims

“Chemotherapy is, for most people, intravenous. It goes in the vein. It goes through your whole system, [and] it kills your good cells and kills your bad cells.”

Learn more about top treatment options with a free veterans packet.

Hyperthermic Intrathoracic Chemotherapy (HITOC)

One type of chemotherapy used by doctors to treat pleural mesothelioma is called hyperthermic intrathoracic chemotherapy (HITOC). Doctors first remove all visible cancer tumors during surgery and then insert heated chemotherapy drugs into the surgery site.

HITOC allows doctors to destroy any microscopic cancer tumors that were not removed through surgery. A similar treatment is used in cases of peritoneal mesothelioma.

Radiation for Pleural Mesothelioma

a radiation machine
Radiation therapy is another good option for pleural mesothelioma patients. It’s often used for palliative (symptom-relieving) care as it can ease mesothelioma symptoms, such as pain and difficulty breathing.

Radiation may also be used alongside other treatments to help improve patient lifespan as an adjuvant (secondary) therapy. For example, it can kill cancer cells or tumors left behind after a surgery. However, it’s not used in high doses as the side effects can be toxic.

External Beam Radiation Therapy (EBRT)

Through EBRT, doctors use a machine to radiate tumors inside the body without the use of invasive surgery. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), this is the most common type of radiation therapy used to treat mesothelioma and other cancers.

Doctors can use imaging methods such as computed tomography (CT) scans to map out the tumor, so just enough radiation is given. This is important as the radiation must pass through healthy tissues to reach the tumor through this process.

Brachytherapy

When brachytherapy is used, a capsule containing a radioactive material like iridium will be inserted directly into a patient’s body (usually through a catheter). The radiation can then break down the cancerous tumors.

The ACS notes that brachytherapy is not typically used as a mainstream mesothelioma treatment, but it may be available through trial programs.

Peritoneal Mesothelioma Treatment

Peritoneal mesothelioma originates in the lining of the abdomen (peritoneum). This type of mesothelioma accounts for 30% of all cases, making it the second most common form. These mesothelioma treatments aim to remove cancer from the peritoneum and other nearby organs.

Surgeries for Peritoneal Mesothelioma

Surgery may be used if the patient has been diagnosed early and they are in good health. Surgery removes as much cancerous tissue as possible to slow tumor growth and encourage remission.

Cytoreductive surgery is the most notable surgery for peritoneal mesothelioma. Through this surgery, doctors are able to remove visible cancerous tumors from the abdominal cavity. They’ll also remove the diseased peritoneum (abdominal lining).

Once cytoreductive surgery has been completed, doctors often then treat the surgery site with heated chemotherapy.

Peritoneal Mesothelioma Chemotherapy

Hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC) is a commonly used cancer treatment for peritoneal mesothelioma. Doctors heat the chemotherapy drugs and apply them directly to the surgery site.

Treatment of Rare Mesothelioma Types

Rare types of mesothelioma — including pericardial (which forms in the lining of the heart) and testicular mesothelioma — require unique treatments to help patients live longer. These mesothelioma treatments typically involve removing cancerous tumors via surgery.

Pericardiectomy & Pericardiocentesis

A pericardiectomy is a surgical option for patients with pericardial mesothelioma. This procedure surgically removes some or all of the heart lining (pericardium) and as much of the cancer as possible.

The heart itself is not removed during this process, and removing the pericardium can improve heart function. Pericardial mesothelioma inflames the heart lining, which can cause the heart to work harder than it needs to.

When pericardial mesothelioma is often diagnosed in its later stages, patients may undergo a pericardiocentesis instead. This mesothelioma treatment removes excess fluid from the heart lining using a catheter.

Orchidectomy

Testicular mesothelioma is often treated with an orchidectomy. This surgery removes one or both of the testicles to prevent the cancer from spreading.

A partial orchiectomy may be performed in cases where only certain parts of the testicle need to be removed.

See more mesothelioma treatment options in our free veterans packet.

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Additional Mesothelioma Treatment Options

More mesothelioma treatments are now becoming available thanks to clinical trials and other research breakthroughs. Many of these new therapies can treat mesothelioma in ways the standard treatment options cannot.

Some experimental treatments have even gone on to become widely accepted means of treating mesothelioma, such as immunotherapy.

Mesothelioma Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy uses medications to stimulate the body’s immune system so it can fight cancer cells more effectively. Immunotherapy medications can increase the immune system response in several ways.

Some drugs, such as Yervoy® (generic name ipilimumab), enhance the body’s ability to make T-cells, which the body generates to fight diseases like cancer. Others, like Opdivo® (generic name nivolumab), help the body’s T-cells target cancer cells more effectively.

In October 2020, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a combination of Opdivo and Yervoy for pleural mesothelioma patients. This marked the first mesothelioma treatment given clearance by the FDA in nearly 20 years.

“’I’m on immunotherapy right now and go to Chicago for treatment, and I have it IVed into me every other Wednesday since the middle of November. The side effects aren’t as bad as the clinical trial chemo I received a year ago in January.”

Dennis, Mesothelioma Patient

Photodynamic Therapy

Photodynamic therapy for mesothelioma uses wavelengths from light to kill cancer cells. Patients first receive a light-sensitive medicine and are then exposed to a light source that destroys the cancer.

Photodynamic therapy may also be combined with other mesothelioma treatment options like a pleurectomy with decortication.

For example, doctors at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center can give patients light-sensitive medication before performing a P/D. After removing all visible cancer tumors and the lung lining, the surgery site is bathed in light to kill microscopic cancer cells.

Targeted Therapy

Targeted therapy allows doctors to specifically pinpoint how mesothelioma cells are different from healthy cells, according to the ACS. For example, mesothelioma cells have certain genes and proteins that noncancerous cells do not.

Targeted therapy then destroys these genes and/or proteins, preventing the cancer cells from spreading.

Clinical Trials & Mesothelioma Treatments

Clinical trials are a great way to access new treatments for mesothelioma that aren’t widely available to the public yet. These cancer research programs test new treatments to see how effective they are.

For example, a study conducted by the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center saw encouraging results when atezolizumab (an immunotherapy drug) and bevacizumab (a targeted chemotherapy) were combined to treat peritoneal mesothelioma.

85% of patients survived a year after starting the treatment and the cancer didn’t progress in 65% of cases. Tumors also decreased in 40% of patients.

Patients who are interested in participating in a clinical trial should speak to their cancer care teams. Please note that clinical trials are selective — patients may or may not be able to join depending on the criteria of the study.

Amy Fair
Amy FairRegistered Nurse
20+ years helping mesothelioma victims

“I encourage clinical trials because they’re free, so you don’t pay for anything. But you’ve got to be a really good candidate, because if you’re very sick, it’s a long process. And sometimes you’re getting placebo, and sometimes you’re getting the actual drug.”

Learn more about clinical trials with a free veterans packet.

Palliative Mesothelioma Treatments

Not every mesothelioma patient will qualify for life-extending treatments. That said, there are palliative mesothelioma treatments still available to help patients manage their symptoms and reduce their pain.

Palliative mesothelioma treatment options may be used to remove a portion of the tumor or to decrease fluid build-up, both of which may cause chest pain and discomfort.

Learn about common palliative care options below.

PleurX Catheter

Patients with pleural mesothelioma often experience pleural effusions, which are buildups of fluid within the lung lining. While doctors can drain the effusions to improve breathing at a hospital, they may come back.

These patients may benefit from a PleurX catheter. The catheter is inserted into the chest wall and the patient is given a bottle to drain the fluid. The PleurX catheter allows patients to drain the fluid at home on their own schedule, without the need to go to the doctor.

The PleurX catheter can also be inserted into the abdomen to treat ascites, a buildup of fluid often found in peritoneal mesothelioma.

Pleurodesis

A pleurodesis is another way to manage recurrent pleural effusions. Through a pleurodesis, doctors first drain the pleura of any fluid that has built up. They then insert a chemical into the pleura to cause irritation, which essentially seals it shut. This means fluid can no longer build up in the pleural space.

Commonly used chemicals to perform a pleurodesis include talc, silver nitrate, and medications like doxycycline or cisplatin.

Paracentesis & Thoracentesis

Paracentesis and thoracentesis are mesothelioma treatments that remove excess fluid from the lining of the lung or abdomen, respectively. This helps to reduce abdominal bloating, improve lung function and breathing, and ease painful symptoms.

Doctors can perform a paracentesis or thoracentesis by inserting a thin needle into the site where the fluid has built up and drain it. A paracentesis or thoracentesis may also be used to collect a biopsy (sample of possibly cancerous fluid/tissue) during the diagnostic process.

Minor Surgery

While many mesothelioma surgeries aim to remove all of the cancer, other surgeries are used to ease symptoms. According to the ACS, these surgeries are typically used if the cancer has spread beyond the lymph nodes and into other major organs, as it is unresectable (meaning cannot be fully removed) at that point in time.

For example, debulking surgeries can remove some of the cancerous tumors to ease symptoms, but are not considered life-extending.

Get a free veterans packet to learn about palliative care options.

Mesothelioma Veterans Guide
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  • Treatment Options
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  • VA Benefits

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  • Treatment Options
  • Mesothelioma Specialists
  • Veterans Benefits

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Alternative Mesothelioma Treatments

There also may be alternative treatments available for patients with mesothelioma. Although these methods may help in relieving symptoms or stress, they are not a substitute for professional medical care.

Alternative treatments for mesothelioma include:

  • Exercise
  • Herbal therapies
  • Meditation and breathing techniques
  • Well-balanced diet
  • Yoga

These lifestyle changes are often effective in increasing quality of life. They work to reduce stress and bolster general well-being. Patients also report many positive mental and physical health benefits.

How to Access Treatment for Mesothelioma Cancer

Determining where and how to access mesothelioma treatment can be difficult, as this cancer is rare and hard to diagnose. A mesothelioma doctor at a specialized cancer center can help patients get properly diagnosed and treated.

“It’s the most important thing in the world to go to the best doctor in the world for what you have.”

Dennis, Mesothelioma Patient

Mesothelioma Doctors

Veterans facing a mesothelioma diagnosis should know that the VA works with some of the top mesothelioma specialists in the country. These doctors dedicate their time and experience to helping veterans from all over the United States.

  • Dr. Avi Lebenthal

    Based in Massachusetts, Dr. Lebenthal is a renowned pleural mesothelioma specialist (and veteran of the Israeli army) with extensive experience treating veterans.

  • Dr. Taylor Ripley

    Dr. Taylor Ripley is the director of the mesothelioma treatment center at Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center in Houston. Dr. Ripley was trained by the late Dr. David Sugarbaker, one of the world’s top mesothelioma specialists.

  • Dr. Robert Cameron

    A top thoracic surgeon in California, Dr. Cameron provides veterans who have pleural mesothelioma with the most effective treatments.

    Visit the UCLA Health website to learn more about Dr. Robert Cameron.

Disclaimer

The Mesothelioma Veterans Center has no affiliation with and is not endorsed or sponsored by Dr. Robert B. Cameron. The contact information above is listed for informational purposes only. You have the right to contact Dr. Cameron directly.


Search for a doctor near you below. Our team can connect you with top mesothelioma doctors right now.

Mesothelioma Treatment Centers

There are also VA treatment centers around the country that specialize in mesothelioma. These mesothelioma cancer centers have access to cutting-edge treatment options and state-of-the-art equipment.

VA mesothelioma centers include:

  • VA Boston Healthcare System

    The doctors at the VA Boston Healthcare System have treated veterans from over 15 states, and usually perform 300 mesothelioma surgeries per year. Its doctors are also affiliated with world-renowned mesothelioma treatment hospitals like Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

  • West Los Angeles VA Medical Center

    Doctors at the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center have been treating mesothelioma since 1998, thanks to a partnership with the UCLA Comprehensive Mesothelioma Program. This facility specializes in the P/D to treat pleural mesothelioma.

  • Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center

    Located in Houston, this VA medical center treats mesothelioma patients through its Cardiothoracic Surgery Program. Several of its mesothelioma doctors are affiliated with Baylor College of Medicine.

Many VA medical centers also provide free, temporary housing for veterans and their loved ones while mesothelioma treatment is occurring.

Affording Mesothelioma Treatment

VA mesothelioma treatment centers can work with a patient’s insurance company to ensure all medical claims and costs are taken care of. This reduces the stress of dealing with medical costs directly.

Patients without medical insurance still have options, though. Veterans and civilians with mesothelioma may be eligible for financial compensation to help pay for their medical care.

Financial support programs can be accessed through the VA and other avenues, including asbestos trust funds and settlements.

Request a free mesothelioma veterans packet to learn more about your compensation options.

Mesothelioma Treatment: Common Questions

Is mesothelioma always fatal?

No. While there is not yet a cure for mesothelioma, there have been cases of patients who have entered remission and survived well past their projected life expectancy.

Mesothelioma progresses differently in every patient. While average mesothelioma survival rates are statistically fairly low, aggressive treatment and a healthy lifestyle can help extend a patient’s lifespan.

Are there any new treatments for mesothelioma?

Yes. New and emerging treatments for mesothelioma are being tested and researched all the time.

The best way to access new mesothelioma treatment options is through clinical trials. Clinical trials study new treatments to help patients live longer and to provide relief to those who haven’t had success with traditional ones.

What is mesothelioma life expectancy without treatment?

The life expectancy of a mesothelioma patient without treatment is around 4-12 months. This is because mesothelioma is aggressive and can spread to distant areas of the body at a rapid rate.

How can veterans access mesothelioma treatments?

Veterans may be able to get mesothelioma treatments if they have VA Health Care. The VA Health Care program allows veterans to receive free or low-cost treatments from VA doctors. Veterans can join this health care program when they apply for VA benefits if they’re not automatically enrolled.

Outside of VA Health Care, veterans can also use private health care insurance plans to get mesothelioma treatments from civilian doctors.

Veterans Support Team
Todd Gersten, MD PhotoReviewed by:Todd Gersten, MD

Double Board-Certified Oncologist and Hematologist

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Todd Gersten, MD is a double board-certified medical oncologist and hematologist specializing in general adult oncology and hematologic disease. He is a physician partner with the Florida Cancer Specialists and practices in Wellington, Florida.

Dr. Todd Gersten is an independently paid medical reviewer.

Christopher Dryfoos PhotoWritten by:

Contributing Author

Christopher Dryfoos is a journalist and member of the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA). As the grandson of the U.S. Navy’s first forensic pathologist, he aims to help veterans with mesothelioma access needed care.

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